Category Archives: General

Grocery List for Honest Parents

I cook a lot. But I really believe we parents need to be more honest with each other. Inside the front door, it gets ugly. And if we were all just a bit more honest, well, I think we all may be just a bit less crazy. I should add that in most grocery stores in the state of PA, we cannot buy beer, wine, or booze. That will need to be a separate list, I guess.

My Honest Grocery List

Applesauce: For the times when all of the fruit has gone uneaten and is now overly ripe. Or when you haven’t been to the store in a while. You will put this in your child’s school lunch so his/her teachers don’t judge you based on the fact that there is nothing from the fruit and/or vegetable group.

Baby Carrots: See above. They last forever.

Bananas: You need to buy these so you have an excuse to make banana bread in a few days after everyone (who says they love bananas) doesn’t eat them.

Brussel Sprouts: Even though your kids actually like them most times you cook them, they are a tremendous threat to hold over their heads when they are misbehaving at 5:00. They can also be a very convincing way to have your husband suggest takeout when you don’t feel like cooking.

Panko Bread Crumbs: Because this is how you cook fish.

Orange Juice: Because all you ever do is buy it and then head to the sink and pour out cups of it that are wasted.

Sunflower Seed Butter, Peanut Butter, etc.: This will be your child’s only source of protein when you haven’t been to the grocery store in a while.

Brownie Mix: Because you need a birthday treat or a potluck dessert or a school party snack about every other day.

Barbecue Chips and Candy:  Because your daughter wrote this on your list and even attempted to mimic your handwriting. You may or may not realize this while you are under the bright lights of the grocery store listening to KC and the Sunshine Band.

Anything your toddler, preschooler, or early elementary child wants: This could range from a Cars-branded sippy cup to a coloring book to Cheeze Whiz to boxed pudding mix. Just put it in the cart. It will be a small price to pay for your sanity and you should not feel guilty if you throw it away in less than 3 days. You can also save it and donate it to the Boy Scouts when they come knocking.

Ketchup: Please only Heinz, however. They know the difference.

Ranch Dressing: Unless you are serving to grown ups, don’t bother making your own. The kids won’t like it any more, and might even hate it and forego the vegetable they were going to dip in it altogether. Buy a reasonably healthy brand and give it to them with the baby carrots. Your vegetable work for the day is done.

Croutons: Will make any child pretend to eat salad.

Amazing Quantities of Yogurt: If you have multiple kids, there will always be one who eats yogurt in disgusting quantities. Let’s call him “Probiotic Man.”

One Frozen Pizza: This will allow you and your husband to get Thai take out and drink too much wine one night this week.

One box of Mac and Cheese: See above. (Sushi and Champagne)

One jar of pasta sauce and some type of pasta: See above. (Indian and Beer)

Bread: This will be important for grilled cheese sandwiches and French Toast — which we all know is the tired, lazy, or hungover mother’s answer to pancakes or waffles.

Clementines: Because seed-fearing kids love these little fuckers.

Ingredients for Fruit Smoothies: Because this makes you feel like a good mother.

Edamame Hummus from Trader Joe’s: Because children can consume amazing quantities of this stuff in very short periods of time.

Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans: For you and only you. Hide them.

Some sort of cracker/cookie shaped like a teddy bear or a bunny or a fish: Any of these will usually do.

Whatever fruit is shown in the suggested serving picture on the front of the cereal box: Certain young children will not be able to eat the Cheerios unless the strawberries that were shown in the picture are also in the bowl.

Pickles: For when they are in a strange pickle eating phase. Then they will hate them, so be sure to recognize when to stop buying them.

Whatever crappy lunch snack their friend packs: You sort of just have to take one for the team here and put the brownie bites in your cart once in a while. Turn your head and cough or something.

Pretzels: Because you think they are healthier than chips, yet you know they sort of suck.

Something to dip the pretzels in: Because they sort of suck, remember?

The largest rolls of toilet paper you can find that will fit on your toilet paper holders: Don’t do this if you enjoy changing the rolls every day.

Children’s Tylenol/Motrin/Benadryl and Pedialyte: This must be in the house when they get sick in the middle of the night. No exceptions.

AA Batteries: No exceptions. (You may personally need C’s or D’s. But why isn’t it rechargeable? It’s 2013!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Order a Pizza

Today, I am not posting a recipe. Nor any photos. That is not unlike every day of the last year, when I have struggled to do much of anything on this site. I have been working almost entirely on my photography lately, and haven’t been cooking as much as I would like and haven’t had inspiration for anything original.  I guess I’ve also felt hemmed in by the format. You notice I post about food, but I rarely talk about the food in my post. I don’t feel comfortable as a food writer. I feel like a big dork, actually. Describing flavors — and using words like “unctuous” — doesn’t come naturally to me. So I usually muddle through a post and talk about something entirely unrelated. And then, whammo, you have a recipe for soup.

This has worked for a while. And I’ve learned a lot. And I’ve discovered interconnectedness. In 10 years, I’ve gone from: discovering daughter’s severe food allergies -> having an immediate need to cook from scratch -> learning about local and organic food -> wanting to preach about local and organic food -> starting this site -> deciding to integrate photography -> teaching myself photography -> doing professional photography -> getting too busy with photography to do anything with this site. And these are all good things even though it started with (what I felt at the time was) a horrible life curveball.

If someone would have told me 10 years ago that 10 years from now I would have quit my job, abandoned my PhD work, and been on my way to becoming a photographer, I think I wouldn’t have believed them. But strangely, I think I would have been really pleased with that outcome.  And I have no doubt that 10 years from now, photography will have led me to another place. And damn if that isn’t the beauty of life.

The strange thing with Cuizoo lately, however, is that I’ve felt like I have lost my voice. If I didn’t have a recipe to post, I couldn’t write. And I miss that. And I miss sharing little stupid things I do around the house or for the kids. I miss writing about politics and motherhood and all of the things that piss people off to no ends. (I actually shut down my last blog because I was getting harassed by a group of conservative men.  Lovely, those guys were. Who knew that they would spend so much time on a mommy blog that they completely disagreed with? And then become obsessed with trying to hurt someone they didn’t even know? Good thing they were Jesus loving and God fearing.)

But I’ve aged and the amount of products I buy at Kiehl’s shows it. And I’m not scared to put my voice back out there. My Facebook and Twitter followers know that I generally don’t hesitate to say what is on my mind, and I need to do that all in one place. And the Facebook friends who can’t stand me posting my Elf on the Shelf ideas because you think I am pathetic or you feel like less of a mother (BTW, I feel that way all the time when you run half marathons and sign your kids up for baseball and take them to every museum in New York City…) will probably be relieved that I have another outlet for my ranting. And to my Facebook friends who are Republican, I feel for you. Thanks for hanging in there.

So, I guess (without much fanfare), I present to you “Cuizoo: The Online Lifestyle Magazine That Will Talk About Food and Drink, Motherhood, Design Ideas, Kiddo Activity Ideas, Politics, Life in General, Products I Love, Things That Piss Me Off, Inappropriate Things That Will Embarrass My Mother, Technology, Photography, Music I Love, and Things I Find Funny.” It’s a long title. We’ll work on that later.

My general plan is to make this transition happen for the new year — hopefully, after sitting back down at the table with the brilliant people who made this happen the first time around. The timing feels right for a transition. Someone that I respect greatly recently commented on this site and said:

I kept getting pulled along by the simplicity of your words…just like the simplicity of the recipe. There was never a big idea that overwhelmed your simple message to appreciate the day-to-day observations that can often pass us by.

And I guess that’s what I want us to do here. The words will be simple, the ideas won’t be overwhelming, and we will focus on the beauty and perfection right here in front of us all — our kids, our families, our food, and our world. Irreverently, of course.

 

Creative Commons photo courtesy of David D’Amico

Garbanzo “Meatballs” with Spaghetti Squash

I take the same route to drop my son off at preschool every morning.  Some days I consider going a different way just to make the synapses in my brain do something different (and no, I have no idea if that is what synapses actually do).  But I usually go the same way, making the same familiar turns, crossing the main roads at easier intersections with less traffic.  Something that you only do after you have lived in a town for many, many years.  I sneak through the alley ways and the back streets.  The car drives itself.

Along my way, I see the beautiful elderly woman walking her little yippy dog.  In my estimation, she doesn’t belong here.  She wears large Jackie O style glasses and is dressed impeccably for her morning walk.  This morning she had on a bright blue oxford shirt with a hot pink, tailored jacket.  Her dog is often dressed as nicely as she is.  She walks everywhere, but it seems like she should occupy the streets of the Upper East Side instead of this small town.  One day I saw her near my daughter’s school without her dog and with her hand bandaged.  I imagined what had happened and worried about her for a day or two, after which I thankfully saw her walking with her dog again.  She is always otherwise alone.

When my daughter was in daycare and I was still working, every morning we would drive past the high school on our way to her school.  Every day we saw a man walking with a newspaper that he bought at the grocery store down the street.  The weather never mattered.  If it were raining, he’d carry it in a bag.  If it were sunny, he’d hold it under his arm.  My two year old daughter affectionately called him “newspaper man” every time we’d pass.  Then our route changed.  I quit my job and he was no longer on our morning agenda.  We saw him the other day walking far from his normal route.  At 10, she still remembered him.

Yesterday, while I was walking in my neighborhood, I passed a very elderly woman slowly strolling arm-in-arm with a much younger caregiver.  I have never actually passed her while walking on the street — only by car. My earliest memories of her (from years ago) are walking while holding hands with her very elderly husband. I always noticed because I wondered whether my husband and I would still want to hold hands at that age. Was it because they were still in love or was it simply to steady each other?  One day I saw her walking and he was absent.  For the first few days I imagined he might be ill.  She needed fresh air.  I’ve never seen him again.  Yesterday, I wanted to look her in the eyes and tell her that I was sorry for her loss.

I turned 40 last week.  I just noticed that my uncle is turning 70 in a few days.  He was 30 when I was born. I was 25 when my nephew was born.  My brain furiously calculates numbers that it should ignore.  Subtractions, additions, comparisons.  I’ll be this when that.

Mid-life crisis seems too cliché.  Too self indulgent.

But I’m post-babies who need moment-to-moment care.  I have no career to speak of, having abandoned it so I could perform that moment-to-moment care.  I’m walking the same streets and I don’t know whether to rejoice in the routine or scream out loud in panic.

Garbanzo “Meatballs” with Spaghetti Squash

Makes 15 meatballs

10 ounces of green garbanzos (available at our Wegman’s in the organic frozen foods.  Could also use edamame.)
3-4 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons italian seasoning
1 teaspoon dried fennel seeds
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup crushed rice cereal (Brown Rice Krispies or Rice Chex style cereal)
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or parsley
1/4 cup olive oil, plus one tablespoon
4 tablespoons marinara sauce
1 medium spaghetti squash
Additional Marinara Sauce

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Split spaghetti squash lengthwise and remove seeds.  Rub cut surface with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place it cut side down in a baking pan and bake for about 45 minutes until it is tender and a knife pierces it easily.

3.  Meanwhile, combine the garbanzos, garlic, italian seasoning, fennel, salt and pepper, and olive oil in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse about five times.  You want to leave a lot of texture to it.

4.  Remove garbanzo mixture to a bowl and stir in crushed rice cereal, 4 T marinara sauce, and 1 T of additional olive oil (if necessary to hold the mixture together).  Season with additional salt and pepper or spices to taste.  Stir in fresh basil or parsley.

5.  Form garbanzo mixture into meatball shapes and bake for about 12-15 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven (that gives them a little “crust”). (You can also make these ahead of time and chill in the refrigerator.)

6.  When spaghetti squash is finished, use a fork to scrape the strands into a bowl.  Toss with a bit of olive, salt and pepper, and additional fresh herbs if you like.  Serve the squash with a few garbanzo meatballs and marinara sauce.

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s taken a few years for me to be able to assemble Thanksgiving recipe suggestions, but here we are.  I haven’t done a roasted turkey recipe here yet, but I will say that I generally like to dry brine my turkey in citrus zest, roasting herbs, freshly ground pepper, and kosher salt. I find that to be so much easier than the wet brining technique.  This year I might be lucky to get a Butterball with a pop-up timer, but in normal years (did I mention we are moving?), I would be working on sweet potato rolls right now and have plans for multiple pies and a multitude of sides.

My gravy is always based on deglazing my drippings with marsala, mixing with the turkey stock I make with the neck and innards, thickening with a butter-based roux, and seasoning with chopped fresh rosemary, salt, and pepper.

This year the pie will be pumpkin because I will probably only make one, and the sides will be limited to mashed Yukon Golds, Portuguese Stuffing, and a toss up between Green Bean Casserole (the one time of the year I buy cream of mushroom soup) and Creamed Corn.  There will also be a green vegetable thrown in for good measure, but we all know that no one really wants to eat that on Thanksgiving.

I may even buy a can of Reddi Whip for the pie.  And mark my words, it will be the best day of my childrens’ life.  So, Happy Thanksgiving.  I, for one, am thankful for convenience products right now.

Corn and Zucchini Bisque

Honey Whole Grain and Spelt Rolls

Portuguese Stuffing

Orange Marsala Cranberry Sauce with Sage

Smoky Scalloped Potatoes with Sausage

Lima Beans with Garlic, Lemon Zest, and Herbs

Rhubarb Applesauce

Green Salad with Cuizoo’s Famous Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing

Brown Butter Non-Pecan Pie

Portuguese Stuffing

So, I was getting ready to can tomatoes and make pesto the other day when I realized it’s basically Thanksgiving.  Last I looked up, we were celebrating Labor Day weekend in our hometown (Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania) with many of our closest high school friends and their families.   As we gathered in the basement of my in-law’s house and attempted to get pictures of all the children in one place (we gave up on them all smiling), it was one of those moments that you realize is, truly, once in a lifetime.  To have everyone there — in the place where we gathered after basketball games in high school and on weekend visits during college — with our babies and children instantly having fun and getting in trouble the way their parents did … well, that’s the stuff movies are made of.

The very next weekend, flooding from Tropical Storm Lee devastated our hometown.  The basement where we gathered just a few days before was inundated with four feet of water (and it never had a drop of water in it previously).  The toys that all of our kids played with were covered in river mud and sewage.  The bedroom that my husband grew up in was destroyed.  The bar that we stood at and drank beers at as 20 year olds, and now 40 year olds, was gone.  It was total destruction for the town that we grew up in and love so much. Whenever I pack my children’s things before we go there, I invariably ask them what they want in their suitcase to take “home.” We may leave our hometowns, but they definitely don’t leave us.

In the next month, we decided to start an online news source, The Bloomsburg Daily, to capture the stories of the Bloomsburg flood. No one knew what was happening there and we felt that needed to be changed.  A terrific team of volunteers from Bloomsburg (and beyond) came together and now our weeks are spent having virtual editorial meetings, conducting interviews, planning photo shoots, and creating videos for the Flood of Silence Project. Our reasoning was simple: Some can hang drywall. We can tell the stories and create information to help a community heal.

My life has been consumed with Bloomsburg — until last week.  If the floods brought total physical destruction to our home, the events of the previous week have brought total emotional destruction to our adopted home:  State College, Pennsylvania. It is obviously the story that everyone is talking about — Jerry Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator of the football team, is accused of sexually abusing at least 8 children, with more potentially coming forward.  Two university administrators have been charged with perjury.   President Graham Spanier and legendary Head Coach, Joe Paterno, have resigned or been fired.  And the Nittany Nation is rocked to its core.

I came to Penn State as a freshman and received a Master’s Degree here many years later.  My husband and I moved here over ten years ago so I could pursue my Ph.D.  Both of our children were born here.  It is now our home.  And we are horrified that members of the institution that we all know and love so deeply could have been involved in this at any level.  Just as the flood waters swept away the foundations of so many homes in Bloomsburg, those affiliated with Penn State feel like the foundation of everything we thought we knew to be true has been taken out from underneath us.

We are sad and angry and confused.  We are crying uncontrollably at times.  We are walking with our heads held low, wondering how this could have gone on at such a great institution.  We are watching the national media report on our small town and the people in it (who we usually only see at the grocery store), and we are incredulous.  We are listening to the hateful remarks about who we are as an institution — judged by the horrific action and inaction of a handful of people — and trying to defend our honor. We are trying to explain how we can be both outraged by the possible inaction of Joe Paterno and so incredibly sad that he is no longer part of our institution.  We are a community, and being in the middle of that community is much more nuanced and difficult than reporting on it from above and outside.

But everything we thought to be true about ourselves is in question.  We are questioning everyone that we thought was a “good man” or a “great person” or had the “utmost integrity.”  We are saying we would do better in a similar situation, yet most of us do not or else the cases of the 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men who are sexually abused would be reported — and the majority of cases are not.

We feel the need to mourn what has been lost, for the victims primarily, but also for the collateral damage in our community.  We need to mourn, but then we need to stop crying, strip out the mud soaked drywall and insulation, cut out the rotten 2x4s, spray down the mold, and slowly start the process of rebuilding.  It will take time and it will take effort.  But it can be done for emotional destruction just as it is done for physical destruction.  It probably won’t be as straightforward, but we will do it because we are a community.

So, this Thanksgiving I want to give thanks for home.  Wherever it is, whatever we call it, however destroyed it is, or however complex the problems may be.  Whether it is our original home, our birth home, or our adopted home.  Whether it is the smallest of towns, or the largest of cities.  It is the place in which we feel most loved and safe and comfortable.  It is the foundation for everything we do.  And after being faced with losing big parts of not one, but two, of my homes, I realize it is worth fighting for. We must hold our heads high, rip out the damage, and get ready to rebuild.

A tremendous group, Proud to Be a Penn Stater, has come together to raise money for RAINN.org.  Please give if you can.  If there is any good to come out of this, it is that the Penn State community can bring tremendous light to a horrible, and often ignored, crime.

Portuguese Stuffing

This is my in-laws’ famous recipe for the stuffing that is always served at their Thanksgiving table.  It has both Italian and Portuguese roots and is a highly spicy and seasoned dressing.  Don’t let the bottle of vinegar scare you off — it is used to slowly saturate the stuffing and most of it burns off, leaving just the spicy tang behind.  This stuffing is generally not baked inside the turkey, but instead in a shallow pan, allowing it to become brown and prevent a mushy mess. The key is making sure you don’t skimp on the seasoning.  My husband is our official taste tester and always says it needs more spice and more vinegar.  I’m not sure if it’s an acquired taste, as I learned to love it instantly — covered in gravy and occasionally mixed with a bite of cranberry, but I do know that most people who try it fall in love.

Makes a 9×13 pan

1 lb. Hot Italian Sausage
2-3 large onions, chopped
3-4 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
6 or 7 celery ribs (with greens attached, if possible), chopped
1 or 2 bunches of parsley, chopped
Salt
Pepper
Italian Seasoning (about 3 T total)
Dried Fennel Seeds (about 2 T total)
Red Pepper Flakes (about 1 T total)
Cinnamon
Nutmeg
Allspice
16 oz. Apple Cider Vinegar
1 1/2 loaves of Italian Bread, cut or torn into one inch cubes, and sprinkled with a bit of water
Olive Oil

1.  Remove sausage from casing and cook in a very large non-stick saute pan over medium heat, breaking the sausage up into small clumps.  When the sausage is browned nicely and cooked through, remove with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel lined plate to drain.

2.  Remove some of the fat that the sausage rendered, leaving about 2 tablespoons of drippings behind.  (Alternately, if your sausage was very lean, add some olive oil to make about 2 tablespoons of fat.) Sauté the onions, garlic, and celery with about 1/2 cup of chopped parsley, 1 t salt, freshly ground pepper, 1 t Italian Seasoning, 1 t fennel seeds, and 1/2 t red pepper flakes.  Cook for about 8 minutes until the onions are translucent.  Add about 1/3 cup of apple cider vinegar, let it absorb and reduce for a minute or two. Remove mixture from pan and place in a very large bowl.

3.  Add drained sausage pieces and bread cubes to the onion mixture in the large bowl.  Season with additional salt and pepper.

4.  In the very large non-stick sauté pan, heat a 2-3 T of olive oil over medium heat.  Take about 1/2 of the stuffing mixture and add to pan.  (I can usually split this recipe into two batches, as I have a VERY large sauté pan, but you might need to do do three batches.) Sauté the stuffing mixture in olive oil, stirring frequently, to allow it to begin to brown.  Add approximately 1 t Italian Seasoning, 1 t fennel, 1/2 t red pepper flakes, 2-3 T parsley, and about 6 T vinegar.  Continue to stir and brown, for about 20 minutes until the mixture is darkened and heavily seasoned.  As you cook, re-season with additional italian seasoning, fennel, red pepper flakes, vinegar, and salt and pepper.  Toward the end of the 20 minutes, add in a generous pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.  Repeat with remaining stuffing and add to a 9×13 pan as each batch is finished.  (This seasoning and frying process seems complex, but it’s really not.  In order to make the entire batch, I generally use about 3 T total of Italian Seasoning, 2 T total of fennel, and 1 T total of red pepper flakes.  And I generally go through a 16 oz. bottle of apple cider vinegar.  This seems weird, but as you fry the stuffing, it soaks into the bread and burns off, so you are not left with too much of an intense vinegar flavor. And whenever I ask my husband if it is nearing the correct flavor, he always indicates that I need “one more round” of all the spices, salt and pepper, and vinegar. It’s zesty for sure!)

5.  When you are finished browning all of the stuffing on top of the stove, add several handfuls of additional chopped fresh parsley to the stuffing mixture.  At this point, you can either refrigerate it (can even make it a day or two ahead if you like) or bake it immediately.  I then generally bake at about 350 degrees Fahrenheit, covered for about 20 minutes, and then uncovered for an additional 10 minutes.  (You just want to reheat it thoroughly and brown it more on top.)

Butternut Squash and Apple Muffins with Pumpkin Seed Streusel

I have received one butternut squash and one dozen eggs every Tuesday for the last three weeks from my CSA.  Up until yesterday, I had exactly three butternut squashes on my counter and three dozen eggs in my refrigerator.  I always like to kid myself and say things like “When fall gets here and the kids are back in school, I will finally organize their baby books.  Or clean out the storage area.  Or have that yard sale I’ve been meaning to do since June.”  Instead, I am confronted with back to school nights, violin shopping, supply acquisition, homework helping, pick ups and drop offs, driving, soccer, snacks, and maintaining some level of personal hygiene.

(Memo to my kids: I really have tried with your baby books.  Although I am very sentimental and keep things like your baby teeth and dried up belly button stubs, I am very poor at organizing these items into beautiful volumes for you to treasure one day.  I really hope it is OK that everything is crammed into a baby book with a cracked spine, papers falling out, and notes written in any color pen (or pencil) I had handy.  I do love you.  But not enough to scrapbook.)

And this entire month has been consumed by the Bloomsburg Floods.  We have the luxury of not being in the epicenter of the destruction and our busy schedule is pretty trivial compared to what the residents are going through.  But it has meant a lot of back and forth travel — which means bags that don’t have a chance to get unpacked before they are being packed again. Whirlwind is how some describe it, I think.  But as I talk with friends who are having their homes condemned, I am pretty sure a whirlwind would be a welcome feeling.  Never mind the “problem” of having all of your children’s baby book items in a box, rather than in a muddy heap never to be looked at again.

This whirlwind seems to blow cooking and eating rules out the window.  The grown ups have eaten a lot of Thai takeout. The kids have eaten way too many pasta dinners and lots of dessert.  It was the boy’s 5th birthday too, which seemed to provide an endless supply of cookies, rice krispy treats, cakes, and cupcakes.  But no more!

I turned on the oven yesterday (and it still worked!) and I made these muffins in an attempt to make a relatively healthy treat or breakfast that the kids would enjoy.  They are whole grain, quite low in sugar and fat, and filled with both butternut squash and apples.  They were a nice fall treat and used up one whole squash and 4 eggs.

Only two squash and 32 eggs to go.

Butternut Squash and Apple Muffins with Pumpkin Seed Streusel

Makes about 18 full size muffins

Muffins:
1 1/2 cups of cooked butternut squash (I like to halve mine, scoop out seeds, and slow roast for about an hour at 325 degrees Fahrenheit)
4 eggs
1/4 cup of dark brown sugar (can use more — up to 3/4 cup for a sweeter muffin)
1/3 cup applesauce
6 T vegetable oil
1 t salt
1 t baking soda
2 t baking powder
2 t cinnamon
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 medium apple, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped

Streusel:
1/4 cup dark brown sugar (can use more here too if you like)
1 t cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped and toasted pumpkin seeds

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  In a large bowl, mix wet ingredients by whisking together cooked squash, eggs, dark brown sugar, applesauce, and vegetable oil.

3. In a medium bowl, mix dry ingredients by combining salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and whole wheat pastry flour.

4.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and whisk until just combined.  Stir in chopped apples.  Spoon into greased muffin tins about 2/3 of the way full. (You can use cupcake papers if you like.)

5.  Combine streusel ingredients (brown sugar, cinnamon, and pumpkin seeds) and sprinkle a nice spoonful over top of each muffin before baking.

6.  Bake muffins for about 15 minutes until just done and a tester comes out basically clean.  Let cool a few minutes in tins and then remove muffins to a cooling rack.  (I had to use a knife to loosen them before removing.)

 

 

 

 

Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania Floods of 2011

I have never used this forum to do something non-food-related.  Granted, I generally spout off about any random topic, but it usually ends with a recipe somewhere.  I’m not going to do that today. Mostly because I’ve been lucky to get hot dogs on the table lately (Boil or grill, put in a bun, and serve with ketchup and mustard).  In the last week, the lives of our family and many of our friends have been turned upside down by the historic flooding from Tropical Storm Lee.  Our hometown of Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania was inundated with water from the Susquehanna River and Fishing Creek.  The area is used to periodic flooding — there are no levees or flood walls to protect the town.  But, you have to go back to 1904 to see water levels this high.  It was higher than Agnes in 1972.  My in-laws home has never had a drop of water even near it, and they had about 3-4 feet of water on their first level.

We went to Bloomsburg last weekend to bring donations and help our family.  The town is decimated.  We read this morning that 1000 homes were *destroyed* in our county alone.  2300 other homes were badly damaged.  Homes were ripped off foundations and sucked  into flood-caused sink holes.  I can’t convey the level of damage.  The mud and water-soaked contents of people’s homes line the streets as far as you can see.  Roads were washed away.  People were wandering the streets covered in mud. The National Guard closed off the most badly destroyed areas to maintain safety and prevent looting.  I guess people were trying to get scrap metal — because there certainly wasn’t much else to take.

Yet, the story has barely been a blip on the national media radar.  I guess we got ourselves too hyped up for a Water World scenario with Hurricane Irene and New York City, but no one is paying attention to this massive natural disaster and what will become a growing humanitarian crisis for thousands of people who have no homes to go back to.  To further complicate the issue, the only local newspaper is behind a paywall, so images and stories are not being shared in the open web via social media and RSS.

If a story happens behind a paywall, do people know?

So, I’m posting this to bear witness.  And I am hoping that you pass this along to those you know, so we can help the town start the long process of rebuilding. Also, I would hope the blogging community would spread this more widely within your own circles.  Donations are desperately needed for many organizations.  Unfortunately, the best way to send money is via check to the local office, so the money goes directly to this effort.  If you are close by, consider taking a drive in to help out for the day, make some cupcakes for the firemen/women and first responders, or bring some donations.  Cleaning supplies, rubber boots, and masks are needed to help the volunteers (townspeople and many college students from Bloomsburg University) who are literally scooping sewage and chemical-laced mud out of peoples’ homes.

Please consider giving.

Red Cross of Bloomsburg

AGAPE

Wesley United Methodist Church (serving food and the home of several relocated preschools, also where I was married and my kids were baptized)

More images available here and here.

And I promise I’ll never talk about sewage here again.

Crispy Brown Rice Skillet Cookies

We went to a minor league baseball game the other night and it was apparently “Christmas in July” night.  The ushers were dressed as elves, Santa was there, and they had the big, inflatable snow globes running.  My kids were a bit confused when I told them that Christmas in July is just something that people … do.  I have no idea why.  I remember being a kid on a camping trip and everyone had their campsites decorated for Christmas.  I was probably just as confused as my kids were.

When you become a parent you know that, eventually, you are going to have to explain sex and death and astronomy.  But who the hell ever prepares to answer why we celebrate Christmas in July?  Well kids, maybe it’s because we are past the halfway point of the year — meaning that Christmas shopping needs to start?  Or maybe because we are so hot and are thinking about Christmas to cool off?  Or maybe because the stupid little Christmas shops in beach towns need a cash infusion?  The possibilities are endless and I really don’t want to spend any more intellectual bandwidth thinking about it.

But then I realized I made a Christmas cookie recipe the other day (*before* the game).  Why did I do it?  Was I subconsciously celebrating Christmas in July?  Maybe this stupid tradition is hardwired into people as they get older.  Maybe we realize that once you get to the 4th of July that it might as well be Christmas … Maybe Christmas in July is a deep, existential expression of the speed of *life* and our own mortality?

Or maybe I was just really hungry for these cookies.

Crispy Brown Rice Skillet Cookies

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
3/4 cup sugar (you can use up to 1 cup, but I find that to be way too sweet)
1 cup chopped dates
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups crisp brown rice cereal (or regular Rice Krispies)
Powdered sugar

1.  In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter.  Add sugar and dates and cook for 4-6 minutes until bubbly and mixture is darkening and become caramelized.  Remove from heat.

2.  Take a few tablespoons of the butter/sugar/date mixture and stir into beaten egg in order to temper it (so it won’t scramble when you add it in).  Whisk egg mixture back into date mixture and and stir well to combine.  Put back on the heat and cook 1 or 2 minutes more until bubbly.

3.  Stir in vanilla extract and rice cereal with a wooden spoon.  Make sure cereal is completely incorporated into date mixture (sort of like rice krispy treats at this point).  Let cool a few minutes.

4.  Take a spoonful of the mixture and drop it into powdered sugar (this will help it to cool quickly and not be too sticky).  Using your hands, roll into a ball and cover in additional powdered sugar, if desired.  Repeat with remaining mixture. (You can also spread these into a baking dish and cut into bars to make it easier.)  Store in the refrigerator.

 

Banana Pudding Popsicles

Maybe it’s been the heat, or my lack of air conditioning during the heat, but I’ve been thinking about Jell-O Banana Pudding Pops lately.  I generally believe that the entirely random thoughts that breeze through our brains are on their way to the discard pile — unless we pay attention to them.  Then they are preserved for a new period of time.  I am not a neurobiologist, but I’m pretty sure that this is how it works.  And I think that the period of time is approximately 28 years, because there is no way I’ve enjoyed a Pudding Pop since I was about 10 or 11.  You can confirm that 28 year time period with your “science” if you like.  But I prefer to trust Bill Cosby.

So, I actually sort of forgot that Jell-O Banana Pudding Pops even existed (and how much I loved them), but I did confirm with the Internet and it is clear that I did not dream this. There were multiple flavors — chocolate, vanilla, and chocolate-vanilla swirl at the basic level.  But I remember loving the banana ones.  And my friend Beth remembers that there was something printed on the popsicle sticks.  Was it a contest?  A fortune?  We clearly let go of that piece of factual information sometime in college when we were killing brain cells with ridiculous amounts of Yuengling Lager.  Anyone else remember? Or have more energy than I do to perform a Google search to find out? Good for you.

When I decided to replicate the pudding pops, every recipe that I found (surprise!) started out with Jell-O Pudding. This is all well and good — but it’s not really recipe worthy. So I made a simple homemade vanilla pudding and then pureed ripe bananas into it.   It would be equally good with any flavor of pudding (chocolate, caramel, etc.) or with any type of fruit pureed into it.  Strawberries would be great.  But that’s not how Bill envisioned it.  So I’m sticking with an original flavor.

It’s not an original method because I made it from scratch, but I think Bill would be OK with it because we generally agree on most topics.  Namely, Donald Trump.

Banana Pudding Popsicles

Makes about 12 popsicles (or 4 cups of pudding)

1 cup milk (I had 2%)
1 cup half and half
1/2 cup sugar
3 T cornstarch
1/4 t salt
2 eggs
2 T butter
2 t vanilla extract
3 bananas, ripe and mashed

1.  In a medium heavy saucepan, whisk together the milk, half and half, sugar, cornstarch, salt, and eggs.   Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly (and scraping out corners of pan with a spatula to get any trapped parts), for about 5-7 minutes until the mixture is bubbly and thickened.  Remove from heat immediately and stir in butter and vanilla extract.

2.  Pour pudding mixture into the bowl of a food processor and add mashed bananas.  Process until completely smooth, scraping down sides as necessary (and being careful to let steam from the hot pudding escape).  Pour pudding into popsicle molds and freeze for at least 6 hours until completely hardened.  (These will keep a few days, at least, in the freezer.)

 

Aunt Cherry’s Rhubarb Cake

This has been a week for appliances and household items to take a shit.  Our air conditioning broke during a heat wave (of course). Now we find out we need a new furnace and heat pump.  Our new washing machine began to leak and created a nice little flood in our laundry room (on the upside, the floor has never been cleaner!).  Our way too expensive, professional quality steam iron decided to leak water through the cord (that seems a bit unsafe).  Our clock stopped working.  Our thermostat broke.  After turning on the outdoor hose bibs for gardening, we realized that this is the year for them to start leaking incessantly (they’ll need to be replaced).

Oh, and now that I think of it …  one of our window blinds broke the other day.  On the same day that my daughter fell off a swing and broke her arm.  WTF?  I’m starting to scare myself.

So, when I recently saw a puddle of murky water in the refrigerator, I was pretty sure that it was the next thing to go. But alas, it was just a puddle from some decomposing rhubarb that I hadn’t used up — because I never use up my rhubarb.  I guess I just don’t see the point of eating something that requires five cups of sugar just to make it palatable.  I cook it down, make rhubarb applesauce or the occasional strawberry-rhubarb pie or crisp, but there’s always a never ending supply.  And then even more in the freezer from last summer.

I decided to take a tried and true, delicious recipe, Aunt Cherry’s Oatmeal Cake, and see what some rhubarb would do to it.  It was very good, but not surprisingly, because nothing could really mess up Aunt Cherry’s cake.  It is a sticky, oozy mess of a dessert that you can eat for breakfast.  And the rhubarb version makes a delicious dessert with some whipped cream or ice cream, but I also served it as rhubarb coffee cake for breakfast with guests.

I’d like nothing more than to bake one right now, but I must go down a rabbit hole into customer service and extended warranty and “we’ll be there between 2 and midnight” hell.  Oh, just a moment.  This is shocking.  I just went to enter a warranty claim for my washing machine and guess what?  The system is down.

Aunt Cherry’s Rhubarb Cake

Makes one 9 inch by 13 inch cake

Cake:
1 cup oats (I used old fashioned)
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/3 cups of whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 t salt
1 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
1/2 t ginger
1/2 cup butter, softened (1 stick)
1 1/2 cups boiling water
2 eggs
2-3 cups of diced rhubarb

Topping:
1 cup pumpkin seeds (or other chopped nuts), toasted
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup of milk
6 T butter, melted
1 t vanilla
1 cup shredded coconut (not sweetened)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease a 9 inch by 13 inch glass baking pan.

2.  In a large bowl, mix together dry cake ingredients: oats, white sugar, brown sugar, whole wheat pastry flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.  Make sure to break up any lumps of brown sugar.

3.  Add boiling water to dry ingredients.  Using an electric mixer, beat in softened butter (1 stick).  When incorporated, beat in eggs one at a time.  The batter will be thin.  Pour into greased 9 inch by 13 inch glass baking pan.  Stir in diced rhubarb.

4.  In a small bowl, mix together topping ingredients:  pumpkin seeds, brown sugar, white sugar, milk, melted butter, vanilla, and coconut.  Drop in small dollops all over the unbaked cake batter.

5.  Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes.  Remove and cool on a rack.